The Wisdom of Narayana Murthy

Founder and then Non-Executive Chairman of the IT giant, Infosys, N R Narayana Murthy was in Mumbai in 2010 to speak at a conference held by The Indus Entrepreneurs called Leaders and Learners at the Welingkar Institute in Matunga. Here are excerpts from Murthy’s insightful two-hour freewheeling talk with an interviewer. His chat was spiked with his dry wit and trademark humility. (He never used a superlative to describe himself or his company).

Bangalore, INDIA: Indian founding member of Infosys, N R Narayana Murthy (r), and CEO SD Shibulal (l) look on at a press conference at the company’s headquarters in Bangalore on June 1, 2013. Infosys reappointed co-founder Murthy to lead the Indian outsourcing giant two years after he retired, as the company grapples with weak earnings and falling market share. Pic/AFP

On disenchantment with the Leftist model.
I was a strong leftist in my student days following the Nehruvian image of socialism. I realised though that the only way to combat poverty, is to create jobs. Years ago, when I was a young man I hitchhiked from Paris to Mysore! I was on the road for 11 months. During that time I took a train from Yugoslavia (Serbia). I started talking to a girl on the train in French.

Rohan Murthy, son of Infosys Chief Narayana Murthy, and Laxmi Venu, daughter of Venu Srinivasan, MD of TVS Motors, during their wedding reception at Leela Palace in Bangalore. Rohan has joined his father in the company

The boy next to her who did not understand the language, thought I was perhaps plotting against the state. He called the police. The police incarcerated me in a room without food or water for 72 hours. They finally put me on a freight train going to Istanbul saying they were giving me this concession because I was from a ‘friendly’ country. I then thought to myself if the Communist system treats friends like this… and my disenchantment with Leftist/Communism began. I embraced what we now call, ‘Compassionate Capitalism’.

On where he got the courage to leave a salaried job and start his own venture when Infosys began in 1981.
I was going to be 35 then, and I said to myself if I do not plunge in now, then I may be unable to do so later. It helped that my wife had a steady job then. She paid R10,000 as “my” share of the capital, we started the company with. In fact, all through the 3.5 years that we went steady, I borrowed a lot of money from my wife, Sudha. (There was much laughter from the audience, comprising students here).

The Dome theatre at the Infosys campus hosted TED, a programme which involves the exchange of ideas through speeches and debates by experts from different fields

The first 10 years of Infosys --1981 to 1991.
At that time one needed a license to import computers. One also took two-three years to get a telephone connection. Logic was not the strength of India at that time.

Author Sudha Murthy at the launch of her book, ‘The Bird With The Golden Wings’ in Bangalore. Pics/Satish Badiger

The Infosys years -- 1991 to 2001.
The economic reforms of 1991 were a watershed event for the country. Everything including getting telephone connections and computers became much easier. At the end ‘we’ (Infosys) built India’s first software campus. (Applause at this).

What makes an entrepreneur?
You must have an idea whose value to the market can be expressed very simply -- maybe in one line. You must have a team with complementary strengths. You must be confident to endure difficulties and make sacrifices. An entrepreneur has a passion to make a difference, a yearning to gain recognition, a level of satisfaction at making a difference and in the end, yes, there is some ego too.

Where India stands today.
This country is at an extraordinary juncture in history. Now is the time to redeem Mahatma Gandhi’s pledge to wipe the tears from the eyes of the poorest of the poor. Murthy had spoken to much laughter, applause and questions that followed his talk. At the exit point, while he was moving out of the hall of the college, youngsters or ‘engsters’ as Murthy pronounced it, were waiting with mobile phone cameras to take Murthy’s picture. It was heartening because one usually sees such enthusiasm for film stars, not corporate czars. Murthy though was a star here though, though not of Bollywood but the biz kind. Young aspiring Murthys queued up for an autograph and clamoured around him.

Murthy return Makes a soar point
Shares of Infoys have risen after the company asked co-founder Narayana Murthy to return as chairman. His return which was announced over the weekend saw shares surging at least 9 per cent in Monday morning trade, reports said. After making a strong opening, shares of Infosys further jumped 9 per cent to Rs 2,624.90 on the BSE.

At the NSE, the stock shot-up by 8.84 per cent to Rs 2,625. Murthy had retired as head of Infosys in August 2011. Now, he has been appointed Executive Chairman, replacing K V Kamath. Murthy (66) accepted a five-year term, over which period he will earn a salary of R1 per year. His son, Rohan, will be his executive assistant.  

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